Media coverage of Worldcons: Loncon 3, 2014 and Seacon ’79, 1979

This fascinating 25-minute documentary about the 1979 Worldcon, Seacon '79 in Brighton, was flagged up to me by Alastair Reynolds on Twitter (he being one of the dozens of people who I had hoped to see in person last week and shamefully failed to link up with). It is a bit grainy but very watchable for those of us who are interested.

Compare and contrast with Channel Four News' five-minute piece from the Friday of this year's convention, which veered rather close to point-and-laugh, but ended up just about at bemused admiration:

(And, if you like, the decent coverage we got this year in the Guardian: a leading article welcoming us to town the day before, a sympathetic article and photographs which made the front page splash on Saturday, and coverage of the Hugo Awards ceremony. There were also various BBC radio journalists running around, interviewing Farah Mendlesohn, etc, but I have not been able to track down those pieces yet.)

I couldn't help but be struck by the difference in how Worldcon and the media interact over the course of 35 years. I think the biggest lesson is that we have got bigger, and become more mainstream, which paradoxically means that we are less newsworthy, qualifying only for a five-minute filler rather than a full documentary. Whereas a 3,000-member specialist convention in 1979 was big stuff, those numbers are dwarfed not only by the 10,000 members (and 7,500-odd warm bodies) of Loncon 3 itself, but even more so by the commercial media events run by Comic Con and the BBC. (There is also an unfortunate point of timing – a lot of arts correspondents for the media spend the whole of August in Edinburgh.)

Celebrity has become less accessible as well. In 1979 the world was still small enough that Worldcon could get both Christopher Reeve and Tom Baker, Superman and Doctor Who; this year we had George R.R. Martin (who is a focal point of the Channel Four piece) as a major presence, but none of the cast were able to make it; two former Doctor Whos discreetly slipped into the Hugos, and their newly appointed successor will have his convention appearances fairly rigorously programmed. There were no media cons in Britain in 1979 (Longleat was still four years in the future).

But other things haven't changed. TV cameras will always be drawn to costumes, and by a mysterious gravitational force will also always be drawn to breasts. I didn't attend the Masquerade this year, so I don't know if anyone attempted to emulate Kate Solomon's famous 1979 butterfly costume, but I think I would have heard by now if they did. However, I did like that fact that Channel Four presented cosplay as something that essentially everyone can try; it is perhaps the moment when their piece tips decisively to being sympathetic.

We still, thank heavens, have the best authors in the field coming to speak. (Though these days, thank heavens again, they are not quite so predominantly male and white – having said which, Vonda McIntyre won the Hugo for Best Novel in 1979 with Dreamsnake.) It was great to see Brian Aldiss, aged 54, holding forth, less than a week after I had the pleasure of meeting him in person, 35 years on. Robert Silverberg is instantly recognisable too.

I was very pleased to get one report that the 2014 press office had been operated "by professionals for professionals". I should be very interested to know if Seacon '79 had a dedicated press officer – a list of people on the committee is given in Dave Langford's Rob Hansen's reminiscences but without roles being identified. The decent outputs conceal of course some desperate scrambling and a few unforced errors, but I had a great team led by the wonderful Alison Freebairn.

One media approach perhaps deserves to be reported. On the very morning that we were setting up, we received an email from a TV production company who are making a new show "offering expert advice to singletons, who are unlucky in lust. [We] will help both single men with their pulling problems & send them back in the world of pulling – armed with new techniques." They wanted to come to Loncon 3 to recruit potential participants in the show; but, do you know, I'm afraid that we may not have replied to them in time. Apologies to any singletons, unlucky in lust, who were actually at the convention and might have relished the chance to get televised advice on their pulling problems.